In 2020 we have seen stars flood into the Women’s Super League: five USA World Cup winners, the European player of the year, Pernille Harder, the all-time record goalscorer for the NWSL and W-League, Sam Kerr, and the return of the newly crowned Fifa player of the year, Lucy Bronze. We have been spoiled. We have expected big things from them and, on the whole, they have delivered.
Who, though, are the lesser-known talents to watch in 2021? The ones who have arrived in England with much less fanfare or have quietly risen through the ranks. There are many. Women’s football is enjoying increased investment and young players have benefited from better facilities and coaching from a much younger age than the more senior WSL players. That is only going to get better. Our top five to watch next year are:
Malin Gut, Arsenal midfielder
Gut was definitely bought as a player for the future but injury to Arsenal’s defensive shield, Lia Wälti, has thrust the 20-year-old into things a little faster than perhaps the manager, Joe Montemurro, would have planned. The Swiss, who joined from Grasshopper Club Zürich in the summer, has made nine appearances in the league this season, playing 90 minutes three times, being substituted three times and coming off the bench three times. Where last season Arsenal crumbled without her compatriot Wälti, this term Gut has made that absence less sorely felt. Wälti is returning but Gut’s solidity has given Montemurro the option of being more careful with Wälti than perhaps he was last year.
Jessie Fleming, Chelsea midfielder
At 22 Fleming has 77 senior caps and 10 goals for Canada. She joined Emma Hayes’s side in the summer from UCLA Bruins – one of a number of players who swapped the US college system for the WSL – and although her playing time has been limited, when she has got on the pitch she has looked at ease among the big names at the title holders. She has played only 24 minutes of league football across three substitute appearances and 32 minutes across three cup games but Hayes’s drip feed shows care is being taken in bringing the recruit up to speed. Expect more minutes in 2021 as Hayes continues to prepare her for the long term in blue.
Ona Batlle, Manchester United defender
The USA superstars Tobin Heath and Christen Press stole the transfer window spotlight at Manchester United but the ease of Batlle’s integration into the starting XI and her consistency at right-back have been exciting to watch. Having joined from Levante in the summer the Spaniard has already played nine times for United, all starts. Dynamic going forward she is also very solid defensively and shone in a 1-0 defeat of Arsenal up against the WSL record goalscorer, Vivianne Miedema, the Australian forward Caitlin Foord and the Dutch World Cup runner-up Daniëlle van de Donk. Heath and Press may not stay beyond their one-year contracts but in Batlle Casey Stoney has a player who will likely be key to United’s future.
Maya Le Tissier, Brighton defender
The 18-year-old is one of the most exciting young defenders in the league. Having joined Brighton at 16, Le Tissier, traditionally a centre-back, has settled in at right-back following the signing of the New Zealand central defender Rebekah Stott and has been one of the league’s most solid performers in the position. She has played in all but one of Brighton’s games this season and has moved up from England’s under-17s to the under-19s this year. Before joining Brighton the Guernsey-born defender was the first female player to play with the island’s under-16 men’s team in 2018.
Hannah Hampton, Birmingham goalkeeper
Hampton was thrust in as Birmingham’s first-choice keeper following the departure of Ann-Katrin Berger to Chelsea in 2018. The now 20-year-old shone and even though the club has been through the ringer – with the manager Marc Skinner leaving mid-season to join Orlando Pride in January 2019 and his replacement, Marta Tejedor, losing the dressing room and, as a result, key players from the club – Hampton has been an impressively consistent performer. She has kept four clean sheets this season and Birmingham have the fewest goals conceded outside the top four. The former Sheffield United manager Carla Ward has helped the club climb to seventh with four wins, having finished 11th of 12 teams last team with only two wins and a draw. With a much more solid side around her, expect bigger and better things from Hampton.